Easter 2 Sermon, 2018

It’s not necessary to understand Thomas to have actually placed his hand in Jesus’ side.

Thomas said to the disciples, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). He said that.

So, Jesus said to Thomas, “‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’

[And] Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27-28).

The 1983 Thomas Troeger hymn “These things did Thomas count as real” sings it this way:

“His reasoned certainties denied / That one could live when one had died, / Until his fingers read like Braille / The marking of the spear and nail” (stz. 3).

Well before that, though, we have the Baroque painting by Caravaggio, dated 1601 or 1602, entitled “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.”

That’s the one where Thomas is getting an up-close look at Jesus’ wounds, and his finger is just touching the wound—in Jesus’ side—from the spear.

But even before that, Incredulous Thomas—or, Doubting Thomas, as we know it today—had been a theme common in Christian art since at least the 5th century.

Scripture doesn’t plainly saith that Thomas put his hand into Jesus’ side—but—basically everyone has always thought so.

This is one of those things that’s fun to talk about but doesn’t actually matter—no one’s gonna get punched in the face for believing that Thomas did or didn’t put his hand in Jesus’ side.

And there’s plenty of things going on around this, in today’s Gospel lesson, that actually do matter.

So, to look at the things that actually matter, let’s imagine both that Thomas did and did not put his hand in Jesus’ side.

First, the DID NOT.

The exhortation to believe the Gospel is not giving you a work to do.

Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your starving, famished child, setting it before him, and calmly saying “Eat!” is not giving him a task to accomplish if he likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

What I mean is—the Gospel is true whether anyone believes it or not.

And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are delicious—one’s too many and many’s not enough.

Thomas didn’t have to put his hand into Jesus’ side because Jesus, the Word of God, told him to believe.

Jesus first said, “Put out your hand and place it in my side.” But—instead—had Jesus first said “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” Thomas would’ve interrupted Him, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus had taught Thomas and the other disciples what to believe. When Jesus said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” it’s as if He says to us today, “Remember the Word taught to you in your youth. Remember all that our Father in heaven has promised and accomplished. But don’t just remember it. Believe it. Trust it. Make His Word your own. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

This is how we preach the Gospel today.

We don’t lay the Gospel promises before you and ask you to do something to get them. That’s like taking a Bible, throwing it on the table, and saying, “Go for it.”

No, we preach the Word of God—we preach Jesus—into the very heart of a person. Using the same image, that would be like taking a Bible and pressing it straight into the chest of a person and saying, “Believe the Word.”

Or, to use a more familiar epithet: We preach Law and Gospel.

The Law in its simplest form is: “God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified” (cf. Acts 2:36).

The spit from your denials lashed the Lord of Glory.

That’s the Law in its “full sternness.”

And as stern as the Law is—the Gospel is sweeter:

“All are justified by God’s grace in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…[which is] to be received by faith” (cf. Romans 3:23f).

The interesting thing going on in today’s Gospel lesson—Thomas knows about sin. He knows about grace. He knows that salvation is not by works lest any man boast (cf. Eph. 2).

He’s heard the sternest Law in Jesus’ own preaching. Thomas heard the sermon on the mount—love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, be merciful (cf. Lk. 6).

All those things that are impossible for us—that shame us because we should but don’t—Thomas heard them first.

And Jesus says, “Do not disbelieve…”

He names Thomas’s sin—“Be not faithless.”

The Law has done its work, so Thomas hears the exhortation to remember and believe the Gospel like a hungry, peanut butter and jelly loving child hears “Eat!”

That is, he heard it with absolute joy!

Thomas goes to the feast—forgetting to put His hand in Jesus’ side.

Because he doesn’t need to.

Having heard and remembered—and believed—the Law.

He heard and remembered—and believed—the Gospel.

Thomas rejoiced, saying, “My Lord and my God!”

That’s if he DID NOT put his hand in Jesus’ side.

But what if he DID?

St. Thomas has had a bad rap.

We don’t call St. Peter “Denying Peter,” but everyone calls St. Thomas “Doubting Thomas.”

Like Thomas is the only Christian to harbor doubts.

Thomas did doubt.

The 1983 Thomas Troeger hymn “These things did Thomas count as real” sings it this way:

“The vision of his skeptic mind / Was keen enough to make him blind / To any unexpected act / Too large for his small world of fact” (stz. 2).

If we’re honest, we have to say that it takes a faithful amount of ridiculousness to believe what the Bible teaches.

Miracles contradict nature, evidence, and experience.

You don’t believe because you’ve seen—you believe because you’ve heard. Blessed are you, Jesus says.

That one could live when one had died seemed like an impossibility because it is an impossibility.

Nobody gets up from dead.

Or do they, right?

We struggle with that every now and then, I think.

I remember sitting with my mom and dad the evening that my brother had died.

My mom got the phone call informing her that her son had been embalmed.

There are several different times when the realization of death hits you, and that’s one of them.

She hung up the phone and confessed to me and my dad that she now knew that Andy wasn’t going to just wake up. That he wasn’t coming back.

Until that moment, it all could’ve been a terrible misunderstanding. And then, that moment.

The only answer to death, the only true comfort in the midst of death, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My mom didn’t express this in these terms, but we’ve all been there—can the impossible things in the Bible be true?

And even if they are true, what about my sins and failures and doubts, everything I’ve committed since?

Once again, the question of DID Thomas or DID he NOT can help us.

What if he DID?

Well, that would mean, after the spear, three things came out of Jesus’ side:

Water. Blood. And Thomas’s hand.

That shows us all—what God gives—and to whom.

To those who doubt—for the Doubting and Denying amongst us—the water from our Lord’s side has sanctified all the waters of earth—so that when included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word we are washed clean—not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience (cf. 1 Peter 3).

To those who doubt—for all of us—the blood from Jesus’ side, with His flesh, is our medicine of immortality.

We eat not because our bellies ache but because our souls do.

We’ve heard the Law in its sternness, and we’ve all drawn the same conclusion: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?…”

And the answer?

“…Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

He’s given us these means to receive His grace so that whether Thomas DID or DID NOT put his hand in Jesus’ side—it doesn’t matter—we have what we need:

The Word of God proclaimed.

Law and Gospel.

The Means of Grace.

The exhortation to remember and believe the Gospel.

In a manner of speaking, we have our peanut butter and jelly sandwich—and—with joy—we get to eat it, too!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter 2 (Quasimodo Geniti), 2018

John 20:19-31

Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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